Don’t blame the reporter

Don’t blame the reporter

Michael Hasting’s “The Runaway General” in the Rolling Stone issue that’s out today is an impressive piece of work.

It’s crisply written, exhaustively reported, and filled with fascinating peeks into the career and mindset of Gen. Stanley McChrystal – who, as everyone knows by now, was shown the door by President Obama for his reckless speech to a reporter.

David Brooks comments on that in today’s Times. He writes that “the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.”

I disagree. The reporter did his job – reporting. That McChrystal was indiscreet – and apparently often soused – was not Hasting’s problem. In fact, Hastings did the president and the country a service by outing a man who can’t keep his mouth under control.

Brooks’ column reminds me of an experience I had many years ago as a reporter for a general interest newspaper. A town council was considering which of two cable companies would get its nod. I found out that a councilman had bought stock in one of the companies, in a “street name.” Clearly, this was unethical, and I reported it.

At a subsequent council meeting, he came up to me and complained that people were looking at him as if he were in a prison uniform. “You did that,” he said. “You did that to me.”

I was sorry, truly sorry, for the man. He was in emotional pain. It’s likely he had seen an advantage and taken it, without much thought. But he should have thought about it. He was not just a private person but someone with a responsibility to the community. I didn’t do “that” to him. He did it to himself.

McChrystal did it to himself.